BOB ABERNETHY: Now the controversial, for some shocking and threatening, ideas of Peter Singer. Singer is a world-renowned Australian philosopher who specializes in the ethics of life and death. Next week, he begins work as a professor at Princeton University, and his appointment there has provoked strong reactions.
On the eve of the new academic year, the serenity of the Princeton campus is misleading. Photographers, reporters, and demonstrators have been drawn here because of this man, Peter Singer, appointed this year to a prestigious chair at Princeton's University Center for Human Values. Singer has triggered controversy and protests because he denies that human life is sacred and argues that under certain circumstances, it would be moral to kill a newborn child.
Professor PETER SINGER (Princeton University): There are some disabled infants born with conditions so severe that doctors don't really try to keep them alive. They allow them to die essentially through benign neglect. But that can be a very slow process. In my view, if that decision is justified -- and I think it can be -- then with the consent and support of the parents, and only then, I think it would be justifiable to help that infant to die; in other words, to take active steps to end that infant's life more swiftly and more humanely.
ABERNETHY: Professor Singer believes that what defines and gives value to a person is not his or her intrinsic nature or having been made in the image of God, but the possession of certain specific qualities. Singer says newborns are not yet rational or self-conscious enough to qualify as persons; therefore, if the parents agree, in cases of severe disability, they can be killed.
Prof. SINGER: A human being doesn't have value simply in virtue of being a human; that is, just belonging to the species "Homo sapiens" isn't enough.
ABERNETHY: Singer also thinks whether an act is moral depends on its consequences, whether it best advances the interests of everyone involved. So to reduce the suffering of both children and parents, again only if the parents concur, Singer would permit infanticide in cases of spina bifida, Down's syndrome, and hemophilia. One reason Singer has reached these conclusions is that he does not accept the sanctity of human life.
Prof. SINGER: I don't believe in the existence of God, so it makes no sense to me to say that a human being is a creature of God. It's as simple as that.
ABERNETHY: One of Singer's strongest critics is another Princeton faculty member, Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence, who insists all human beings have a fundamental right to life, regardless of their age or qualities.
Professor ROBERT GEORGE (Princeton University): When we have agreed that it's all right to kill certain human beings because we think they're not fully rational, they're not fully developed, or they have some defect or retardation, once we've decided that, we've lost the only logical principle we have, the only warrant we have for believing that human beings have fundamental rights that deserve protection and respect, that they must always be treated as ends in themselves and not as a means to other people's ends.